[Movie Review] NIGHT RAIDERS
Courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films

NIGHT RAIDERS presents as an interesting international production with connections to Canada and New Zealand. The director, Danis Goulet, brings her directorial debut to the big screen with help from the multi-talented Taika Waititi serving as executive producer. Coming with Waititi’s name attached, the audience should expect a film that touches heavily on Indigenous communities and themes. So, within the film, the director explores the future of Canada by exploring the painful past of the country’s First Nation people. In the year 2043, Canada experiences martial law and at the center of the story stands a Cree mother and daughter who only want to escape the undue control forced upon them by the oppressive regime.

Some viewers might experience confusion from Goulet’s approach to developing the narrative. The storytelling does not rely on exposition dumps, voiceovers, or even text scrolls. Instead, the audience slowly becomes privy to the current state of the country through observing the streets, the people who live in them, and the propaganda which is broadcast frequently. NIGHT RAIDERS starts in a familiar-looking Orwellian world, but as the audience, we start with very little knowledge of the now decaying Canadian cityscape. Among the drone-run ruins, Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) and her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) weave through the cities trying to seek refuge from a world that now makes children illegal. Anyone under 18 years of age becomes ruthlessly kidnapped and sent to the ‘Academy.’ A place touted for academic excellence and the only option for children to succeed. The storyline might echo themes from Children of God or even The Girl with All the Gifts, but the inspiration behind this film comes from a far more real and sinister place.

Up until the 1990s, the United States and Canada had what the governments referred to as Indian Residential Schools, where supposedly families sent their children to become educated. In reality, these schools were actually forced assimilation buildings in which Native children were forced to attend (sometimes even kidnapped) and subjected to extreme isolation from their family, physical and sexual abuse and even death. The reason for these schools? To stop Native children from being Native. Their culture, their language, and their identity became robbed from them, thus robbing future generations as well.

Courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films

While the theme of settler colonialism runs deep throughout the story, at the root of the narrative stands a female-centered plot filled with love and determination. Far too often dystopian films focus on fatherhood or at least a male protagonist, while Goulet’s film uses motherly devotion to propel the story. Niska not only places her daughter at the forefront of her life and goes through hell to protect Waseese, but several other female roles also play a part in the story. From Roberta (Amanda Plummer) who plays an aunt-like figure to Niska, to the elderly homeless woman Lorna (Pamela Matthews), to the all-girl Hunger Games-type academy Waseese attends, the film focuses heavily on women protecting those they love and of coming of age. And all of which is done with heavy Indigenous representation.

NIGHT RAIDERS is getting labeled as a post-dystopian or post-apocalyptic story. An apocalypse refers to the destruction of normal life with many many people dead from some kind of catastrophe. For the people in charge of the country, an apocalypse lives only in the genres of horror or sci-fi, but for other groups of people, such an extreme loss of life exists in their not-so-distant history. In Danis Goulet’s first feature, she uses the painful history of First Nation people to create a post-post-apocalyptic world in which a mother goes to great lengths to keep her identity, her culture, and especially her daughter.

The film does not present anything new when it comes to dystopian tropes, but the strength of NIGHT RAIDERS rises above the typical sci-fi landscape with the introduction of post-colonial themes presented by an Indigenous woman. Goulet creates a powerful collaboration between common sci-fi fare and years of oppressive history. Also, a bit of fantasy weaves into the story in the final moments of the film, which provides some visually impactful moments. Overall, Goulet presents a fantastic debut feature, which will most likely become essential viewing.

NIGHT RAIDERS is now available On Demand and Digital.

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